The rule ‘clarification’ on EBDs is yet again the hot topic in the paddock. Fans are murmuring about mid season rule changes, Red Bull is throwing a theatrical fit with Horner and Newey thundercloud moods (while it would seem they’re not that badly affected, locking out yet another front row).
To be fair, the FIA would argue they are merely enforcing the rules set out at season start, not changing them mid-season. FIA judges the engines are now being used as aero devices when the rules stipulate they shouldn’t (as far as the ban on ‘moveable’ aero devices goes) – if you look at it objectively there is truth to this claim: fact remains that the hot and cold blowing through the engine is providing extra downforce, thus making the engine act as an aero device. However this is a case of FIA stretching the rules’ interpretation as I doubt that’s what the FIA really had in mind when talking about movable aero devices.
This whole mess could have easily been avoided and the FIA was dumb not to outright ban it all before the start of the season when it was widely known teams were exploiting this during last season already and mandate the periscope exhausts for 2011 which they have now announced for next year. However, the FIA are indeed the referees of Formula One, and when they make a decision the teams should comply to it. What’s happening now is a bit like football coaches and club owners storming the field after a red card has been given and coaxing the referee into reversing his decision based on the claim that their team would have to change their play style for the remainder of the game.
Ferrari has been uncharacteristically very quiet about all this, and qualifying seems to show why: Alonso was a mere tenth off pole position on a track where the Red Bulls traditionally have at least half a second advantage over the competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari was a silent driving force behind this rule chance. To my surprise though, and putting in doubt my claim of Ferrari as a driving force behind this, Ferrari are not objecting to the FIA’s compromise offer of reverting back to the Valencia stipulations (only the rule on parc fermé for engine maps between quali and race would remain in place) but that it is apparently Sauber and Williams who are withholding their blessing. Sauber are of course using Ferrari engines and gearboxes and have a Ferrari young driver in their ranks with Perez so the conspiracy theorist in me might want to look at that and say Ferrari are using Sauber as their straw man while looking dignified and above the fray themselves…it’s probably a stretch but who doesn’t like a good Ferrari-FIA conspiracy theory for old times sake?
Update! This was the situation as of saturday evening. Sunday morning it was announced Williams had accepted the compromise, but Ferrari had turned around and now opposes the compromise deal together with Sauber. Perhaps my conspiracy theory was not so far fetched after all 😉
But let’s get to the meat and bones of this argument. Mercedes and Renault (the engine manufacturers, not the teams) are clamoring for dispensations on the basis of reliability. They say they need the cold or hot blowing to cool valves and ease crank case pressure and whatnot. But the whole reliability argument from both Mercedes and Renault is ludicrous. I do not believe for one second that all those bright engineers cannot come up with a way to live with this ban AND keep reliability. It’s a matter of them not being willing to adjust, not that they are not capable of it. I find it equally telling that on the Renault F1 sport website there was no mention of any such worries in their previews, and it was not mentioned by the very Renault engineers detached to the teams when discussing the upcoming ban in their podcast. Perhaps they were told to keep quiet about it so as not to reveal their weakness to the competitors, but I still find it strange Renault decided to only voice their concerns as the race weekend had started.
It’s a combination of FIA’s weakness and teams’ intransigence. The teams had almost two months to prepare for this ban as it was announced before the Spanish GP. To me it seems not one of the engine manufacturers and teams did any serious work to make sure their engines would comply with the regs, and figured they could just bully the FIA into submission with their reliability claims. Coming up with a solution for their engines with this ban would only enhance FIA’s chances to ban it, so they did next to nothing and make it look impossible to address the issues the ban posed for their engines. The whole point of delaying the ban was to give teams time to address these problems, they chose not to use it and shoehorn the FIA into submission. Looks like the plan is working.